With the cricket season about to begin, I thought it timely to use a batting metaphor to illustrate how thinking can obstruct free flowing movement. For the cricket lover, there is great joy watching a batsman lean into his front foot, head towards the ball, eyes focused through the grill, as the bat arcs guided by fast hands, the wood kissing the leather ball in the briefest of seconds before accelerating to the rope.
Seeing an expert perform in any field has the common denominator of ease. They make it look so natural and effortless, whether playing a musical instrument, dancing or stroke play. The movements have been rehearsed and honed thousands and thousands of times before, the motor patterns in the brain grooved with the synaptic efficiency that results from hours of practice.
Most people are ‘experts’ at walking. We don’t think about it in this way necessarily but the walk is a movement pattern that has been practiced since we started, well… walking. It is only when things go wrong does the motion change. A limp for example. Walking can also change when we start thinking about it rather than naturally, unobservedly going about our business of ambulation. Note how much activity is afoot from the simple stepping action, involving the whole body, the whole person and his or her mood and the environment in which the individual resides at that moment. Of course, the perception or even attention upon the environment is affected by one’s mood — ‘how did I get here? I didn’t even notice’.
With movement and posturing being an expression of who we are and what we are thinking and feeling, there are characteristic styles that identify us to others and to self — you will recognise a friend from afar by the way he walks; and you will know that you are moving well and normally by detecting self, or rather when the self feels different. When all is well, the act of walking is not noticed, yet as I have said, this changes at the point of being conscious of how the arms swing, the legs lift and the body sways, and if heavy or light thoughts crowd into the mind.
It is well known that the batsman must concentrate on the ball until the last: ‘watch the ball onto the bat’. This happens quickly and hence any unnecessary thought can affect the end result. ‘He looks quick’, or listening to the banter from behind the stumps, and oops, it could be the long march back to the pavilion. Some high quality players have in recent years been subject to depression, which has certainly affected their ability to hit the ball. Thoughts crowding in. The art of batting then, is a mindful task whereby the mind must be quiet to allow for the free flow of movement. There is no difference between this and movement on a day to day basis.
The person suffering chronic pain moves differently. The body is protecting itself, the individual consciously protects and hence simple movements, once take for granted, are now anticipated, planned and executed in a timid and fearful way. This pattern is encoded and passed back into the sensorimotor system to plan the next movement and other possible actions that the brain predicts may happen. Where this does not match the normal pattern, a threat value is created, evoking activity in the salient network that detects when something is physiologically amiss. Part of this network’s role is to trigger responses that motivate behaviours and attention to the relevant areas of the body. Once satisfied that all is well, protection is lifted and wellness ensues.
Movement is fundamental to health and feeling normal. We can tell when someone is not well in many cases by the way they move and hold themselves. To restore flow and ease of movement often requires that we target fears and anxieties that are caused by thoughts that can obscure. Much as the batsman needs clarity, so does the person overcoming pain. And whilst sometimes we need to think about the way we move, most times we just desire natural, unconscious and purposeful action that results in a reward.
In rehabilitation and in overcoming chronic pain, just like batting, we need a clear mind so that we can focus upon the job in hand. Thoughts come and go, but if we let them interfere with the action rather than letting them pass, there will not be the same result. Practicing mindful movements where you learn the skill of focused attention allows for the right kind of concentration and attention, eradicating the effects of fear and anxiety that can so commonly be associated with normal movements and activities. Understanding pain is another key element of reducing these fears and their potent effects.
To set up the right conditions for recovery, we must consider beliefs, thoughts and fears as well as the environment and the vision of where the person wants to be. From here we can create an individualised programme that addresses all dimensions of the pain experience: the physical, the cognitive and the emotional; and how theses dimensions interact. This is the complete and whole person approach to pain that is necessary and indicated by modern pain neuroscience.
For information or to book onto the Pain Coach Programme, please call us on 07518 445493